A formal process for utility billing adjustments is the subject of a new Wellington ordinance.
The legislation, which passed its first reading by council June 5, authorizes the village to collect the difference between an erroneous bill and the actual cost of service.
If the billing cycle in question cannot be determined, the undercharges will be based on time elapsed since service began, the installation date of a faulty meter or other error resulting in the undercharge, or 365 days.
Whichever of the three time periods is determined to be the shortest will be used to factor the charges.
While the ordinance applies to both residential and commercial customers, no residential customers will be billed for undercharges exceeding a period of 365 days.
In the event of an overcharge, the same criteria will be used to determine what is owed to the customer.
Customers will have the option to pay the amount undercharged in equal increments spread over the same number of months the charges piled up, according to the ordinance.
Wellington currently has no ordinance language on the books regarding utility billing adjustments.
“This ordinance ensures that other customers won’t have to pick up the costs associated with under-billing,” said village manager Steve Dupee. “Without this new language we wouldn’t have been able to recover under-billing charges from a specific customer.”
If an error in billing is determined to be due to tampering or theft of service, billing for undercharges can exceed 365 days.
The ordinance comes after the city of Lebanon recently failed to recover $1.2 million in under-billed charges from a commercial electric customer that occurred over a six-year period. The customer admitted to using the electricity but said it should not be held responsible for the city’s error.
A federal lawsuit filed by the customer initially went in favor of the city, but the U.S. Court of Appeals of the Sixth Circuit overturned that ruling due to Lebanon having no ordinance language dealing with the collection of undercharged utility bills or billing adjustments.
American Municipal Power, which supplies electric service to both Wellington and Lebanon, sent a notice to community officials across Ohio encouraging them to review their ordinances and provided suggested language to address the court ruling.
Dupee said he was not aware of any major issues in the village regarding under-billing or over-billing.
“Meters do go bad from time to time and I’m sure there have been various situations stemming from that,” he said. “There’s nothing I’m aware of specifically where the village has had a significant issue. We just wanted to protect ourselves here and protect our customers.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.